One of the most frustrating things about walking some dogs is when they pull constantly on the leash, straining against the owner, often resulting in a tug of war between human and canine. The human usually loses! Often the dog will yank the walker in a new direction when he detects a scent. Did someone say "SQUIRREL?!" Oh Yikes.
This is no fun for anyone - the owner becomes increasingly tense and the dog gets more and more frustrated as it strains against the slow pace of its owner. Walks may end up being shorter than desired and Fido goes home without having burned off enough energy.
The good news is even old dogs can be taught new tricks! Here are five tips to help make your dog walks a much more enjoyable experience for both of you.
1. Don't get frustrated with your dog or yourself. Getting annoyed will only make the problem worse. Your dog is only doing what comes naturally to him or her. He's likely learned this behaviour over a long period of time and its going to take him a while to overcome it and relearn a new behaviour.
2. Get a harness that attaches the leash at the FRONT of the dog's chest area (not the BACK or NECK of the dog.) When dogs feel pressure pulling them back their instict is to pull against it.
When the leash is attached to the front of their chest they feel less resisitance and are less likely to pull. EasyWalk is one of the most popular brands. However, I see lots of dogs with sagging harnesses that restrict the natural shoulder movement. Make sure you get one that fits properly and goes over the top of the shoulder.
3. Do not use a prong collar or a choke chain. These can seriously damage a dog's trachea if used improperly and you may end up with huge vet bills later in life. Also your dog will likely just get used to the pressure/pain they exert and pretty soon you're back to square one with her pulling you along the pavement. Instead, buy a martingale collar and attach it to the front of the harness together with the leash.
A martingale collar does not choke the dog but it squeezes together to prevent it slipping back over a dog's head. Together with the harness, it gives you much great control without applying any harsh pressure.
4. Invest in a clicker and a pocket full of treats. Clickers are a wonderful training tool. They make a little clicker sound that marks good dog behaviour. When followed up with a treat they make one of the most effective training tools around. Start with very short (5-10 minute) training sessions. Before you even venture out of the house get Fido used to the sound of the clicker and follow up each click with his favourite treat. Click + treat. Click + treat. Do this 5 to 10 times. Now you've got his attention! Pop his leash on and walk about the house for a little while, as Fido follows you - but only when the leash is loose - click + treat again. Never click and treat when the leash is tight or he wanders away from you.
Take a few steps away from your dog each time you have treated. Every time he takes a step closer to you click + treat. When Fido's happily following you around the house on a loose leash you can venture outside where there are more distractions. This might be the next day or a even few days later.
5. Now shape the behaviour. Once Fido understands he only gets a treat when the leash is loose, you can start to shape the behaviour by only clicking and treating when Fido is at your heel. Once he understands he only gets a treat when he's in the correct position, use the command "heel" and a hand signal that uniquely identifies where you want him. For example, point slightly behind you to your left. As soon as he gets into position, click and treat. Follow this process until Fido is getting the message that he only gets a treat when the leash is loose and he's following along at your heel.
This might take a number of training sessions, depending on your dog and your skill with the clicker. Keep the sessions short and fun. But if you have patience, you'll start to notice changes which you can build on each day.
If you'd like more tips on how to train your dog to walk loosely on a leash beside you, please don't hesitate to contact WagMore Dog Walking. We LOVE to talk about dogs and we'd love to help you make your dog walks a more enjoyable experience.